By William Haderlie / December 26th, 2016
|Developer||The Game Bakers|
|Publisher||The Game Bakers|
|Release Date||July 5, 2016|
|Genre||3rd Person Action|
|Age Rating||ESRB M for Mature|
Furi is a very difficult game to review. Not because it’s challenging to play, although it is certainly that. But more because it gets so close to true greatness, which makes the few missteps all the more frustrating. This seems to be one of those games where you either really love it, or you can’t stand spending more than 15 minutes beating your head against the first fight in the game. But this game bleeds style and fresh ideas, sometimes to the detriment of substance, but at least it’s original. In mechanics it’s very much a 3rd Person action game, in style it’s very much a bullet hell shooter, and in spirit it’s very much a fighting game. But at its soul, this tale is one of a lone samurai struggling to free himself and discover his long-since forgotten identity.
The other difficulty I have run into with regard to reviewing this game is that a review without spoilers would be totally ineffectual. So in that respect we are fortunate to have waited this long after its initial release to give a review. Since it was released around 6 months ago, I’m not going to bother being too precious about spoilers. Really, if you are going to want to know why you should even play this game, you really should know some spoilers because those are some of the primary things that make Furi stand out. I still won’t reveal everything about the game and if you want nothing spoiled, just skip to the final paragraph for a summary and then the score. That being said, the gameplay holds up enough to stand on its own even if you know everything going in. Which is good, because the replay value would suffer were that not the case.
You start of the game imprisoned by a sadistic jailer who claims to have repeatedly killed you over many years, and wants to keep on killing you over and over again for all time. Other than that bare bones motivation, you know really nothing else about him, nor do you know your name or why you are imprisoned. The most you will ever know about him is that the Guardians (Jailers) call the protagonist Stranger, and there is a being who is apparently on the same side as he is/was who calls him Rider. He is only called this when it becomes apparent that he rides something (more on that later), so realistically his name remains nebulous throughout. There is no need for any voice acting for this character, though; he does not speak at all and has very obviously been stripped of any emotions. Whether he had any to begin with remains a question worth pondering at the end of his adventure.
But we could also call the protagonist Donnie Darko, because he also sees a man wearing a rabbit mask. The giant rabbit doesn’t have a name either, so I’ll just call him Frank. And, much like in that story, there is a good debate to be had on whether the rabbit is real or only in his mind. But Frank does speak, unlike our erstwhile hero. Most of the story is given in exposition by Frank as Stranger/Rider slowly walks between each fight. Supposedly the rabbit man does help release Stranger from his bonds, but you never see him actually do so, and this is also apparently not the first time that Stranger has escaped. It’s just that each time he has done so in the past, he has been quickly returned to his cell. Frank is a very mysterious figure and it remains a question throughout the entire game of whose side he is really on, let alone whether he even truly exists. Eventually, he claims to have killed one of the Guardians but you never actually see him do so. And I find it far more likely that he was originally that Guardian himself or he doesn’t exist and he’s a figment of your imagination haunting you from when you killed that guardian yourself on a prior escape.
I find that it’s more likely the Rabbit is your struggling conscience over your past, once you’ve seen the full story play out. It’s not that the story is very long (the game only took about 2-3 hours to play through to completion), it’s just that the story is given only in very oblique phrases and hints. What becomes apparent, long before you reach the end credits and it is verified without any question, is that you are actually the bad guy. And the Guardians are actually the good guys who have every reason to keep you trapped, especially since you apparently cannot be totally killed. But it does also seem that in their attempts to cage, control and kill you, you have lost a lot of who and what you were. So it’s possible that you might find a new path.
So the story is rather interesting, and quite beyond the norm for video games. It is a bit obtuse and existential, but I don’t think that it would be a huge turn off for anyone wanting to play the game. Where this game will turn off the vast majority of people who don’t like it will be in its mechanics and difficulty. The game is set to Furi difficulty by default, and if you want to unlock any trophies or unlock Furier difficulty or the Score Attack mode, you will need to beat the game on that mode. I disagree with the developers on this point, however; I would strongly recommend anyone plays this on Promenade first. Furi difficulty would be the hardest difficulty for almost any other game because of the mechanics and the very tight reaction windows. Also, how much the game punishes you for small errors definitely makes it potentially very frustrating if you start off there. Yes, it does mean you aren’t going to earn all those unlocks, but at least you will enjoy the story more and you will learn a lot of basic boss patterns before you have to crash your head into the wall repeatedly.
I’ve watched several Let’s Play videos of this game where the people gave up this game on the very first fight. And that challenge might be fun for many gamers. However, it can also be a huge turn off for many other gamers. Trust me when I say that if you think Dark Souls games are at all difficult or frustrating, this is not a game for you. I would place Dark Souls III difficulty at the Promenade level in this game. There are some extremely tight reaction windows for required parries (you do not even need to play a Parry character in Souls), dodging has very tight frames of invulnerability and can be very tough to control your direction, and possibly the most annoying is that if you don’t get an enemy health bar depleted before your health bar depletes you have to restart that phase completely over again. Each mark below the enemy health (upper right in the above screenshot) represents a phase of the boss fight. Each phase has its own health bar and you must defeat every phase before you down the boss. Most of the bosses totally change their attack patterns between each phase.
Fights are in 3rd person action game style, but many of the mechanics within the fight itself are similar to what you would see in a bullet hell shooter. That is particularly true when the boss fight is in a distance phase. You have infinite bullets that you can fire, but typically the bosses will have shields that will prevent them from taking much (or any) damage from a normal bullet. Typically you will need to hold down R2 in order to build up a charged shot to fire at the enemies. Unfortunately while building that up you will move around much slower, and you cannot dodge or parry and keep your charge. So there can be some very tight windows in which you need to charge up. And you will almost always need to fire that charged shot immediately, so you have time to dodge or parry something. Parry is done with the circle button, but it has a very tight window of success. If you do succeed, it can restore a small amount of health, and (more importantly) give you a small window to fight back. Unfortunately, even on the very first fight, you will need to be able to parry several attacks in a row with fairly exacting timing before you can counterattack. You can also charge up your sword attacks (by holding down the square button), but unfortunately you will have even tighter windows in which to release a charged sword attack and so I really couldn’t rely much on it. Also, it does not hone in on the enemy so directing it can be rough.
There are also phases where you are forced into a close fight and you cannot escape to a distance until you have won that phase of the fight. Typically, during these phases the boss focuses on melee attacks (but not always). They also tend to use sweeping physical attacks which render large portions of the battlefield circle to be a hit zone. They are choreographed to be shown about a second before the boss uses that move, so you have a quick moment to be able to get into the safe area. Unfortunately the dodging can be very finicky to get used to, not only because of very few frames of invincibility (never enough to get through those sweeping attacks unless you are in the safe zone), but also because you need to dodge in the exact correct direction to avoid almost anything in the game. Often when a wave of something is approaching you, you will need to dodge at a specific angle in order to avoid that wave. This makes dodging in this game much more difficult than a Souls game, but even more necessary.
As maddening as some of the fights could be, with their very finicky mechanics, that wasn’t really my largest frustration with the game. Tight and brutal mechanics were part and parcel of the games that I grew up with, so what was actually the most frustrating was that this game felt like it was half of a whole game at times. To me there was not really any good reason for the worlds of each Guardian to be so devoid of all other life. It would have felt much more interesting to have a few peons to fight on the way. Also, they give you a small chance to explore a little on the walk between each boss fight, but there is really nothing to be found and you can only go slightly off track so you are better off just hitting the cross button and letting your character walk himself there while you read/listen to the exposition of your Bunny friend. He just basically gives you vague hints about the next boss you will be fighting, not how to beat them but what their motivations and past are. Very rarely he will also give you some oblique hints about you and your past. This, combined with the actions of several of the Guardians, was how I determined well before the credits that I was the villain. But to give me control in those situations and to even have that long walk, but to not provide any associated function or benefit seems a strange choice. Ideally I would love to have a sequel where they had larger levels with a good reason to explore. There is something to be said for being true to your vision as developers, but the game did feel a bit empty without it.
Even if the levels were a bit empty, they were never dull or boring. A lot of that was due to the fabulous art aesthetic that the developers gifted this title with. That neon-noir look and setting were extremely appealing, and all the animation was super interesting. This has some of the most compelling art design of any game that I’ve played all year, and I could definitely use a lot more of this in the future. Not only that, but the music really matched the setting extremely well. There was a lot of variety in the tunes, but most of them had an electronica feel to them. My favorite track was from one of the final levels, a snow area featuring a song that could have easily come from Kavinsky’s latest album. The voice acting in the game was also really good, especially fitting was the Japanese track (surprising from a non-Japanese developer). I ended up choosing that track for the long run because of the neon-noir samurai feel of the entire game. Plus the Rabbit speaking in Japanese just sounded cool, for some reason.
This paragraph is going to have to have massive spoilers, just to warn you. One of the strangest decisions that the developer made is that you really should not turn off the game when you reach the end credits. The end credits do allow you to wander around a location and there is an apparent reason for this to show what you have been fighting about this whole time. But eventually that fades out before you finish watching the rest of the credits. However, if you stick around until the end of the credits you are given control of your character to walk around some more. Eventually you can make your way to a specific location in the distance and you are taken to a whole new location and a whole new level of the game. In that location you are given your only choice of the game, and if you choose to do so, you can fight the real last boss of the game. This is a very strange decision to make, and it will also ensure that many people who play this game will never actually know that there is a real ending to Furi. If you end where the credits start, it will likely feel pretty unsatisfying.
There were a few frustrations in Furi, but a lot of that was just the direction that they chose to take with the game and its style and story. There was nothing really buggy and it was very well made. The music and the art style are all top notch, and I would love to see a sequel to this game in the future. I would especially like to see another game set in this world where we could learn more about the lore and spend more time exploring it. It’s a bit short for a $25 game, but there is good replay value in getting better at each fight and also just spending more time in those beautiful worlds with an amazing soundtrack, so even at that price I can fully recommend it but only to those who are really up for a challenge. Unfortunately there is a huge difficulty spike between Promenade and Furi settings, so be prepared to get a serious callus on your forehead. It’s a brutal journey but when it’s this stylish, the brutality is worth it.
Review Copy Provided By The Developer
3rd person action gameFuriIndiePlayStation 4PSNThe Game Bakers